Fear of Fido
© Hanna Derecka, Dreamstime.com
When my son was almost 3, he was nipped by a puppy on a leash, which we stopped to admire during a walk in our neighborhood. He remembers it as a bite. Since then dogs have been a concern to him and, by exposure, to his younger sister.
My husband and I grew up without pets, unless you count the goldfish I won by throwing Ping-Pong balls into its bowl at the amusement park. We’re not pet people. But I knew when I became a mother that I didn’t want to pass on this aversion—and lack of interest—to my kids.
So I faked it and pointed out other people’s pets and called them “cute” and learned to say, “Hi puppy,” to dogs, which my husband says. (I don’t know why.)
And then my daughter started requesting a cat. We decided to take our effort to overcome our upbringing to the next step: We got a cat. So now we’re cat people.
By extension, we started to become pet people. We really liked watching the HUGE dogs that lived behind us in our old house. We would greet them as we came and went through our back door. They would bark, we would wave and say hi. Since a 6-foot fence separated us, no one had to worry about physical contact.
But now that my kids are older and going more places, I decided we needed to overcome this dog thing. So I took my kids on the first sunny Sunday in March to the Wegmans Good Dog Park, part of Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool, on Route 370. They protested all the way, but I had the wheel and their playdate at a friend’s house didn’t start for another hour, so they were stuck.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, they spotted the first adorable dog, and the kids were all ears and eyes. They thought all the dogs were cute, especially those in “costumes,” such as a camouflage coat, a quilted pink-and-white wrap, and one dog with a purple bow on her head. The kids loved this end of the park designed for dog play instead of human play.
I asked owners for advice on how children should approach unfamiliar dogs, and they offered a variety of tips.
Ten-year-old Claire Thomas of Camillus says she asks owners if the dog “is OK with people” before she ventures to pet an unfamiliar dog. Georgio, her mix of Jack Russell terrier and Pomeranian, likes to dash around checking out as many people as possible in the dog park.
Dawn and Robert Harris of Liverpool took their new dog, Roxie, for his first visit to the dog park. “The more socialization they (the dogs) get, the better they are” around people and other dogs, Robert Harris says, watching their chocolate Lab and shepherd mix checking out the park.
“You always want to consider the safety of the child first, as well as the dog’s,” notes Susan Healy-Kribs, a Shelty owner from Baldwinsville.
Forty-five minutes and at least that many dogs later, I had to drag the kids away to get to their playdate on time.
Back in our Baldwinsville neighborhood, Richelle Wedyck advised: “Always ask the owner if you can pet the dog.” Her 13-year-old daughter, Madie, just adopted their fourth dog, Sadie, a Morkie or “designer pooch,” who is a mix of Maltese and Yorkie. The tiny, fluffy puppy is all nips and licks these days but will be trained to meet and greet with more restraint.
“Don’t go and touch the top of the dog’s head,” Wedyck adds. “Let them smell you first.” Ideally, pet owners recommend extending a hand, palm down, so the dog can smell you and not think you’re trying to hit. If they do start to nip or bite, it’s easier to get the hand—and all the fingers—away if the palm is facing down.
Wedyck recommends not staring down a dog, which can be interpreted as a sign of aggression. At the same time, don’t turn your back on a dog or turn and run, which the dog may take as an invitation to chase.
Joe Price of Van Buren has an 8-month-old Rottweiler “who just wants to be where the people are” in his house. Price reminds folks to think about the dog: “Mainly you let them feel comfortable. It’s all about their comfort zone.”
My daughter now calls herself a “dog person” as well as a “cat person.” She thinks we could use another cat, a dog and a baby, too. (She’s a good negotiator; maybe she’ll get the second cat.)
My son, now 8, remains a bit hesitant, but not afraid. He marched right into the “small dog” side of the dog park and didn’t run away as the little dogs ran over to smell him and pat their paws as high as his knees. We laughed watching a big dog snuggle down in the snow and roll over as if trying to make a snow-dog angel.
Maybe it helps being taller than he was when he was 3. It certainly helps to meet more dogs. And, of course, it helps to keep trying to make new friends, even furry ones.